Bob Filner survived. Not only did he survive, but he pretty much thrived. It was widely expected that UT-San Diego darling Carl DeMaio would cruise through to the November general election for Mayor of San Diego, but it was very much in doubt right up until the polls closed and the votes began to be tallied who his challenger would be, and how close the margin between that challenger and DeMaio would be.
Turns out that the guy who ran the quietest campaign of the four major candidates did pretty darn well, thank you very much. Bob Filner, the guy with less funding than you’d expect from a major candidate and the smallest amount of mass media exposure, ended up finishing second to the big money favorite, DeMaio. That fact in and of itself may not be so surprising, since Filner has a good amount of name recognition after his 20 years in Congress representing San Diego’s 51st District (Southern San Diego County and Imperial County), his years on the San Diego School Board, and his years as a member of the San Diego City Council.
What is very surprising is how tight the margin is between DeMaio and Filner as the final votes are tallied at the County Registrar of Voters. As of the latest updated figures, Filner stood a mere 1.47 percentage points behind DeMaio in the primary voting, which is shocking considering the amount of paid and free media DeMaio was able to saturate the San Diego airwaves with.
Money was widely expected to be the name of the game in this election, as in he who had the most of it would fare the best. That was at least half true. But Filner defied the odds in finishing second in the primary election, while finishing a distant third in the money race (District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis finished fourth).
According to the City of San Diego Ethics Commission, Carl DeMaio led the money race—by a lot—with a grand total of $2,381,777.57 in contributions to his campaign and outside expenditures on his behalf. It should also be noted that DeMaio put in $675,631.71 of his own money into the campaign.
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher finished second in the money race, with $1,877,700.79 in contributions and expenditures on his behalf.
Bob Filner? He finished the primary season with a “mere” $950,346.38 raised and spent on his behalf. (Dumanis finished with $801,855 raised and spent.)
During most of the primary campaign, it appeared to even the most intent of observers that Filner expected to be able to coast through to the general election. He seemed to assume that his name recognition and the fact that he was the only Democrat in the running would be enough to push him on to the next stage. Outside observers weren’t so sure. In fact, most of us were downright skeptical.
When we interviewed Filner back in April for a story on his campaign to date, we asked him about those perceptions of his campaign. We asked for his response to assertions that he was emulating Jerry Brown’s strategy in the 2010 California gubernatorial race (we weren’t the only ones who were wondering about his strategy). Brown essentially sat out the primary, counting on his virtual rock star status within the California Democratic Party to vault the then state Attorney General through to the general election. It was even then viewed as a risky strategy, since his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, had already run one of the most expensive campaigns in history, having spent tens of millions of dollars on just the primary, giving her a huge leg up in the general.
The bottom line was that San Diego hadn’t seen or heard a lot from the Bob Filner for Mayor camp, and we had questions as to how seriously he was taking his campaign.
“What gives you that impression?” he asked. “That’s obviously a weakness on our part, then. You cannot take this primary for granted. Any two of us can make the runoff,” he said.
“I go from six in the morning ‘til midnight every night. I’m working like hell, so if we’re not getting across then something’s wrong,” he told us. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re not coasting.”
Part of the problem was his presence—or lack thereof—on the airwaves. “We’re behind in the money race,” he told us during that April 20th interview. Carl DeMaio had already gotten TV spots up, and had been granted a lot of “free media” primarily from his stand on Prop B. Nathan Fletcher was up with TV ads, and it just seemed like Filner was being left behind in the dust.
“You know I have won 25 elections in San Diego, so I’m not inexperienced at this,” he reminded us.
It was that schedule that he said he kept that apparently did the trick. It’s retail politics at its best. Show up at community event after community event after debate after function. Meet and speak to as many people as you can. Get out there and make the candidate an actual human being in the eyes of the voters.
There wasn’t an event he wouldn’t attend. There wasn’t a debate he wouldn’t participate in. There wasn’t a hand he was unwilling to shake. And he’s not exactly an unknown entity in San Diego political circles to begin with.
There’s also the possibility that San Diego is just plain ready for a change. Not since Maureen O’Connor took over for disgraced Republican Roger Hedgecock in July, 1985 has San Diego seen a Democrat occupy the top spot in City Hall. Since then, the city has endured the controversial tenures of Susan Golding and Dick Murphy, who cut his second term short when he decided he could no longer be an effective mayor. Jerry Sanders has brought relative stability to the office, and it’s hard to argue that the city isn’t better off than when the former Chief of Police was first elected to office in 2005.
But it’s also plain to see that choosing Carl DeMaio to lead San Diego into the future would bring a hard right turn to the city’s politics and policies. We could see that fork coming a year and a half out.
There’s also little doubt that a Bob Filner tenure would be unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history. It would be a more cooperative city; a friendlier city; a city that values the work of its public servants; one that prizes fiscal responsibility as much as it does the public good. Instead of merely “getting government out of the way,” it will be an administration that believes that government can and should play an important role in the growth of the local economy.
I don’t agree with Filner’s entire platform. I believe that the Convention Center does need to be expanded, and that San Diego does need to be able to compete for the biggest national events (he told us he didn’t think it did). And I believe that the public sector should invest in a private-public partnership to build a new stadium for the Chargers and Aztecs, and that it can do so in a manner that will benefit the public sector financially (don’t ask me how….I’m not nearly smart enough to have that answer laid out all nice and neat like, but I believe there just has to be a way). I do agree that it must be a regional investment, though, and that the City of San Diego shouldn’t bear the entire brunt of what will effectively be a regional asset. But we can argue about that another time.
The Bob Filner for Mayor campaign seemingly got off to an awfully slow start with very little attention being paid to it. He was desperately behind in the money race and lagging in the polls. But Bob Filner had a plan, and here he is today with the gap between him and the guy who Doug Manchester’s UT San Diego embraced with a big, wet, sloppy, uncomfortably intense open mouthed kiss still closing.
Shame on us for ever doubting him.